A man rubs his eyes Jan. 19, 2016, at the Augusta Community Warming Center before heading home. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal file

A rainstorm that was expected to unleash strong wind gusts across Maine through Tuesday could also bring the possibility of flooding and power outages.

While this storm won’t bring freezing temperatures that might prompt people to seek shelter if their power is knocked out, emergency managers across central Maine are reviewing and revising their shelter plans as the COVID-19 pandemic continues unabated. After all, winter is coming.

“We’d be real hesitant to put up a shelter right now,” Augusta Fire Chief Roger Audet said Monday.

Audet has been fire chief and Augusta’s emergency management director for 15 years. In that time, he said, the city has only had to open shelters a couple of times during extended power outages in the winter. “We wouldn’t want people to congregate right now,” Audet said.

More than nine months after the global coronavirus pandemic was declared, public health restrictions continue to impose limits on public gatherings and now require people to wear masks while in public places. Those same requirements would be in place in storm shelters.

Kennebec County Emergency Management Director Sean Goodwin said emergency planners have been talking about emergency shelters since the early days of the pandemic last spring.

“Crowding hundreds of people in the (Augusta) Civic Center is not going to happen,” Goodwin said.

Even providing routine shelter to the homeless has become a challenge in Kennebec County, he said, where some shelters are sending people to hotels to be able to observe social distancing requirements, particularly in Waterville.

While Maine hasn’t had much need for shelters during the pandemic, that experience exists elsewhere in the United States. “There are certainly some examples to look to,” Audet said, pointing to shelters that were opened in the wake of the hurricanes that ravaged states like Louisiana earlier this year.

“In this day and age, it would have to be something dire to open a shelter,” Goodwin said.

In West Gardiner, the Town Office, the Fire Department and garage are equipped with generators to provide shelter if it’s needed. Greg Couture, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, said he’s not sure it would be this year. Even during the historic ice storm of 1998, not that many town residents took advantage of public shelter options, because they stayed with relatives or had wood stoves for heat, he said.

“Most people have gone to standalone generators,” he said.

In Litchfield, where the impact of the 2017 wind storm in late October lingered for days, the town has been reviewing its emergency plan to take the pandemic into consideration.

“We use the Carrie Ricker School for our shelter,” said Kelly Weissenfels, acting town manager.

In the event of an extended outage, residents would be able to go the school to warm up, get a meal and a shower, he said. If residents should need to seek shelter before the pandemic ends, they’ll be provided personal protective equipment and be required to maintain physical distance from one another.

“We’re not expecting this storm to be cold,” Weissenfels said Monday.

Hunter Tubbs, a meteorologist in the National Weather Service’s Gray office, said strong storms at this time of year are normal, but this storm will be a little unusual because it’s a relatively warm system. Periods of heavy rain carried by a system moving up the east coast from the south began moving through central Maine Monday afternoon and were expected to continue through midday Tuesday.

“It won’t be heavy rain for that entire period,” Tubbs said. “But we are expecting a couple hours of heavy rainfall, which could result in some minor urban flooding and flooding in some poor drainage areas.”

The National Weather Service issued a high wind warning for overnight Monday for the Augusta area as well as an areal flood watch for the same time period. Tubbs said the maximum wind gusts in the Augusta area could approach 50 mph.

Some areas could receive more rain and higher wind gusts. “With the wind, there could be some power outages, which is something that we’re watching,” he said.

The temperature was expected to rise Monday into Tuesday, into the high 50s, and that warmth will contribute to the strength of the wind, he said, but cooler conditions will return after the system moves through.

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